As FBI warns of Russian election interference heading into 2020 election, state and local officials require significant resources to improve security and modernize election infrastructure
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with 37 of their colleagues, wrote a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging an increase in funding for election security grants and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 to help secure upcoming elections in New Mexico and across the country.
Established by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with ensuring accessible, secure, and accurate elections. Since its creation, the EAC has provided essential assistance to state and local election officials, set voting standards, certified voting equipment, and administered the country's most comprehensive election survey, the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS).
“Today, more than at any other time in our nation's history, election officials face unique challenges that require federal support,” the senators wrote. “As we approach the 2020 elections, we must ensure that they have the resources they need to combat foreign interference and ensure that every American has easy access to the ballot box.”
The senators continued, “Recently, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted to approve $250 million in grants to state and local governments to improve election security. This is far less than what is required to address ongoing election security concerns, and is less than half of the $600 million appropriated by the House this June. State and local officials require significant resources to improve election security and modernize election infrastructure. In addition to having more funding, the House Appropriations Committee includes language that would help strengthen our elections, like ensuring that federal dollars are used to replace paperless machines and improve election cybersecurity. As you work to pass appropriations for FY20, we urge you to include the highest possible appropriation and to accept the strong requirements enumerated in the House bill. These provisions are necessary to ensure election officials have the resources they need to secure our elections.”
Congress provided $380 million for election security grants under HAVA in FY 2018, of which New Mexico received nearly $3.7 million. However, the Republican majority in Congress provided no further funding in FY 2019. New Mexico is using these funds to upgrade voting equipment, conduct risk assessments, fund security staff and training, improve security of its voter registration system, and protect county-level systems from cyber risks.
Udall and Heinrich have been staunch advocates for improving election security. Sponsored by Udall and co-sponsored by Heinrich, the For the People Act includes provisions to protect American elections from foreign interference by creating a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, increasing oversight over election vendors, and enhancing federal support for state voting system security upgrades, including paper ballot voting systems. Udall was a co-sponsor of the September 2019 amendment from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate Appropriations Committee that increased the FY 2020 Senate bill’s funding for election security from zero to $250 million.
Heinrich, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, co-authored the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Udall to streamline cybersecurity information sharing between federal intelligence entities and state election agencies and to provide support for state election cybersecurity infrastructure. Heinrich helped lead the effort to secure $380 million last year for states to make election security improvements, implement cybersecurity guidelines, and replace outdated electronic voting machines.
In addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tina Smith (D-Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Chairman Kennedy, Ranking Member Coons, Chairman Quigley, and Ranking Member Graves:
As the House and Senate begin work on conferencing the Fiscal Year 2020 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, we urge you to support increased funding for election security grants, and for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
Today, more than at any other time in our nation's history, election officials face unique challenges that require federal support. As we approach the 2020 elections, we must ensure that they have the resources they need to combat foreign interference and ensure that every American has easy access to the ballot box.
Election Security Grants
Despite the progress made by many state and local election officials, more must be done to secure our elections. In his July 2019 testimony before Congress, FBI Director Chris Wray stated that, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has issued two bipartisan reports on Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. The report confirmed that Russia conducted sophisticated influence operations, hacked political committees and campaigns, and targeted election administrators and private technology firms responsible for manufacturing election systems. In Illinois, the names, addresses, birth dates, and partial social security numbers of thousands of registered voters were exposed. We also learned that the election systems in two Florida counties were hacked by the Russians, and the Department of Homeland Security is conducting forensic analysis on computers used in North Carolina after it was revealed in the Mueller Report that a voting software company was hacked.
In the face of these threats, experts are asking Congress to take action. At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in February, a bipartisan group of secretaries of state called on Congress to increase support for election security. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, testified that, “additional funding is imperative to ensure voting equipment can remain up-to-date and voting systems can remain secure to protect the data of those citizens.” This summer, a group of 22 state attorneys general sent a letter urging Congress to support election security funding and legislation. Calls for help from the states underscores the urgent need for the federal government to step up its efforts to strengthen election security across the country.
Recently, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted to approve $250 million in grants to state and local governments to improve election security. This is far less than what is required to address ongoing election security concerns, and is less than half of the $600 million appropriated by the House this June. State and local officials require significant resources to improve election security and modernize election infrastructure. In addition to having more funding, the House Appropriations Committee includes language that would help strengthen our elections, like ensuring that federal dollars are used to replace paperless machines and improve election cybersecurity. As you work to pass appropriations for FY20, we urge you to include the highest possible appropriation and to accept the strong requirements enumerated in the House bill. These provisions are necessary to ensure election officials have the resources they need to secure our elections.
Election Assistance Commission
In addition to providing increased funding for election security grants, we must fully fund the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency charged with promoting security standards and best practices for voting machines and election administration. The EAC provides vital assistance to election officials, and it is the only federal agency responsible for testing and certification for voting systems. Since its creation in 2002, the EAC has become an essential partner for our local and state election officials. Given ongoing threats following the 2016 election, the EAC’s work is more important than ever.
Despite the Commission’s critical role in promoting election security, it has been perennially understaffed and underfunded. A recent report by the Commission’s inspector general found that the agency’s budget for salaries and administration has fallen from a high of $18 million in 2010, to a mere $8 million in 2019, a decline made worse when accounting for inflation. With only 22 staff, the Commission has less than half of the employees it had in 2010. Consequently, the Commission has been unable to develop a dedicated cyber assistance unit, despite repeated requests from state and local officials. Finally, if Congress is going to require the Commission to administer additional election security grants, as it should, it must also ensure that the Commission has sufficient resources to administer them properly and carry out its broader mission.
It is vital to ensure that the EAC, the only federal agency charged with improving federal elections, has the funding it needs to be successful. The FY20 budget in the Senate for the EAC is $11,995,000 while the House appropriated $16,171,000. This is a difference of $4,426,000 and all EAC Commissioners, including the Republican Commissioners, have said that the agency cannot continue to properly function on the Senate funding levels. As you finalize appropriations for FY2020, we urge you to fund the EAC at the House level and ensure that there are strong strings attached to the election security grants.
The security of our elections is paramount, and we are grateful for your work to ensure that state and local officials across the country have the resources and support they need as we head into another election year.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.